A Perfect Family Photo

A long time ago on a warm sunny day, eager little shoes make their way through tickling green grass. The teetering toddler, eyes sparkling, grasps her mother’s hands. Just a few feet from the waiting father the young mother lets go of the tiny fingers and they both watch proudly as their giggling daughter takes her first solo steps to rest her hands on her father’s leg. The excited mother runs to the house to return with the camera to capture this perfect family moment.

Eugene pauses his mending, Gloria at his knee with Marguerite’s shadow in the foreground.
Photo taken early September, 1950

I am unsure of the scene that played out before the shutter was triggered. I imagine it as a special event, such as I took the liberty to describe, as film would have been expensive to waste. I am almost there in that photo, just out of view, because I can feel the ground underfoot, smell the air and hear the sound of distant waves swish as they reach the shore in the background. I feel the soft breeze that teases the man’s hair and I can hear his voice as he softly coos to the tiny girl at his knee, just like he used to do to me. This photo was captured 15 years before my arrival on this earth, but the man in the centre of the photo would play a huge role in my life.

After bobbing back and forth across the Atlantic on a WWII Flower Class corvette, Eugene Perry came back home to North East Harbour, Shelburne County, NS in late 1945. He built a house on the property next door to his father’s and, a true man of the sea, started his work-life as a fisherman catching herring in the summer and lobster in the winter. Soon after, he married Lena “Marguerite” Smith and they began their life together in the little house on the hill overlooking the harbour.

The fishing industry is quite a bit different today compared to years ago, and actual fishing was only part of the job. The rest was all the never-ending chores entailed around the tools, gear and equipment of the trade. From the boat that safely held them in the palm of the cold moody ocean to the nets and traps that captured and brought to the sea’s surface each day’s catch, it was a constant agenda of building, repainting, repairing and replacing; all by hand. And it all catered to the weather and the seasons as to which chores needed to be completed and when.

I have been told by family members that Marguerite was a worker who could be seen “on the hill” mending nets alongside her husband to aid with the constant to-do list. To mend a net, a wooden chair would be borrowed from the kitchen – I still have the table and two of the four chairs which Eugene ordered from an Eaton’s catalogue – and carried out to the hill to sit on. A damaged net was laid out, dry and ready to be stretched and pulled taught by strong hands that cinched knots and repaired holes, most likely torn by a large vigorously-wriggling fish desperate to escape.

One of my stepfather’s chairs ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue. It could be the very chair he is sitting on in the photo above.
A needle used to mend nets; it is still wrapped with twine from when my stepfather used it last, probably back in the 1980s. I believe Eugene would have hand carved this needle as many fishermen’s tools were handmade at that time.

As with all young couples after the war, they wanted to start a family. Disappointment would come with the birth of a stillborn baby girl on November 20, 1947. But their prayers would be answered on September 29, 1949 with the birth of a healthy baby girl. They named her Gloria Lena Perry and she was their pride and joy.

I have several photos of Gloria which I will share in future posts. She and I, in a way, were somewhat alike. We grew up in the same house and the same neighbourhood, although years apart. We also loved spending time around our (step)father. We would eventually meet each other after her mother passes away from pneumonia on March 21, 1965. The loss of Marguerite was devastating for Gloria and her father. Eugene struggled with preparing for the upcoming herring fishing season with a 15-year old daughter to care for. Enter my mother and I. But that is a story for another day.

This family photo is so heartwarming, and tells so many stories. As a child who grew up on that same property, I recognize that spot where Eugene is sitting. I have stood there many times to look out at the harbour beyond the ledge in the background. Eugene is wearing his Royal Navy issued pants as he would have stated they were “still good enough” after wearing them home from the war as there was “nothing wrong with them”. A package of cigarettes(?) is stuffed in his shirt pocket. (If you think you recognize what is in his pocket, please let me know in the comments below.)

It is a warm sunny day as you can tell by the little dress Gloria is wearing. She would have been close to a year old. It was late summer and just before her 1st birthday at the end of September. The sun played an important role that day as well; without it, Marguerite’s shadow would not be in the foreground. You can see how she holds the camera about chest height, her elbow at her side, her head tilted down as she centres the subjects in the camera-top viewfinder before pressing the shutter. This camera would be the same Kodak Eugene bought just before heading to war.

I am unaware of any other photos of Marguerite, and I feel this is probably the only photo of this little family unit. Yet, in its own way, it is perfect. In that moment they are together and happy, and what can be more perfect than that?

“The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.”
Andy Warhol

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